Indoor vertical farm in crowded megacity
After the World War II, the Japanese government began their economic reconstruction. The Japanese government bought two-thirds of the total agricultural land from the landlords, the actual owners, and sold it to small farmers at a lower price. Prior to the reform, farmers owned only 23 percent of Japan's total agricultural land. The Japanese government then imposed a ban to stop the landlord system forever. As a result, there was no opportunity for private firms to invest in Japan's farming sector. In 1975, the number of farmers in Japan was about 1.1 crore (11 million) that gradually decreased to less than 20 lakh (2 million) in the next 40 years by 2015. The country's another major cause of concern in the agricultural sector was the age of the farmers. At present, seven out of ten farmers in Japan are aged over 60 years. On the other hand, youths' are seen reluctant to take up agriculture as a full-time profession. As a result, it became very difficult to pull up Japanese agriculture. On one hand, extensive mechanization was required, while on the other hand, youths' needed to attract to come into farming. Now, Japanese government has created opportunities for private investment in the farming sector. As a result, corporate participation, extensive mechanization and use of artificial intelligence in agriculture creating a lot of hope. Several industrial enterprises began investing in the country's agriculture and agricultural technology field. Japan's agriculture has changed quite dramatically and positively since then.
I had the opportunity to have a close look at Japan's agricultural activities in 2006. There I saw an organization called Pasona-II create hydroponic farming management, 30 feet below the ground level, with LED lighting, air and controlled temperature as an alternative farming practice for retired adults. That was soilless farming. Later on, I have seen same practice of soilless farming from Europe to USA and to the Middle East. It is an invention that changed the definition of agriculture.
Recently, I visited an indoor farm, running with the same idea, in Dhaka's Mirpur area. A house in this crowded megacity has been transformed into a unique vegetable garden, following most modern approach of indoor farming. Cultivation is being done there in a controlled environment and of course in indoors. They are cultivating diverse foreign vegetables in indoor where technology, research and brain are their only resource for such tremendous development.
The vertical indoor farm is built by four young entrepreneurs at an abandoned house, known as 'Farm Imagination.' The indoor vertical farm, built with hydroponic system, produces different varieties of salad and vegetable, including lettuce, buckthorn, basil, celery, capsicum and cherry tomatoes. There are also green vegetables, being produced in layers. Specialized LED lights are being used to control lighting and heat while 95 percent less water is needed compared to the normal agriculture procedure.
Parveen Akhter is one of the four entrepreneurs of the indoor farm. Having completed MBA from the Dhaka University, she has worked in various institutions in home and abroad. She is interested in good agricultural practice and was inspired by watching Hridoye Mati O Manush on YouTube and Facebook. She now can fully comprehend what the future agri-business might look like. I must say, she was brave enough to start her indoor farm. Developed countries have also had to go through food shortages during the Covid-19 pandemic period. As we all know safe food can build a strong immune system. Parveen has concentrated here with great emphasis and she believes that the demand for fresh and safe food will increase day by day. "With this in mind, I think this is the time to work with the advanced technology," says Parveen.
The work of sowing seeds by pouring cockpit in a special plastic cup was going on in a room. There are three small rooms along the corridor. Each room has steel trays installed from bottom to the top. Green vegetables like Bakchay (Chinese cabbage), basil, lettuce etc are cultivated there. Parveen said Europeans eat burgers with it, and wholesale price of each Bakchay is Tk 50 (USD 0.55) while its retail price is Tk 75 (USD 0.88).
I was looking at their experimental indoor farm of around four thousand square feet. Although it is done in a hydroponic method, they are following 100 percent 'Good Agricultural Practice'. As a result, there is no question about the purity of the crop.
The production process is encouraging. Each room has a 100 percent automated system. Light, water, air are all being used in this production system accordingly. Parveen said that one of their goals is to introduce the new agriculture system to the new generation. Several young people, including Parveen's daughter Radia Rihanna was working there with deep concentration.. I talked to her for a while. This young people are very much interested in modern technology. They are also very optimistic about this initiative. A small greenhouse surrounded by glass walls has been built. Cherry tomatoes and various colour capsicum are being cultivated there. The specialty of greenhouse is there is no artificial light as natural light and temperature are important elements for the crop production. Parveen is getting light from the roof.
Parveen says it's a pilot project. Over the past year and a half, her team has been able to build a successful structure using indigenous materials. She has been able to produce and market fresh vegetables in Dhaka as there is huge demand for vegetables produced indoors. It is not possible for her to supply it alone. She wants to spread this initiative among the youths, so that they can take the lead to change the face of farming in Bangladesh.
Farming is one of the oldest professions in the world. In the evolution of time, human nature and search for food became a natural process. But without science, it is not possible to get a single grain of crop or any other food material. The world's population is growing. All, from the policy makers to the big industrial entrepreneurs of the world, have become active in thinking about the necessity of food for the growing population.
They are also thinking to produce more safe food from a smaller place. Science is the simplest solution and at the same time its proper application is more important. The way Parveen explained various aspects of indoor farming is quite encouraging. I believe, many people would want to start vertical indoor farm after seeing what Parveen has made possible. Success will come by doing something good in the most scientific and calculative way.